The Secretary asks “Cecilia, could you accompany me to the White House to brief President Huntsman? I am concerned Samms will get there first.” After a couple of phone calls, Cecilia found herself in the back of a black GMC Suburban, accompanying the Secretary of Defense to the White House. They were waved through the entrance gate, and shown into the Oval Office. President Huntsman was on the telephone, and waved to Cecilia and Samantha to take a seat on the sofa. Shortly, he hung up the telephone and called out to his secretary. She came in, and he handed her a red folder, and quietly asked her to make 2 copies. While they waited, he came over to sit with them. Secretary Mortenson said, “I”m sure you remember Professor Vasquez. She quite ably assisted us in resolving the water issue last month.” The President shook Cecilia’s hand, and said, “Of course – thank you for coming today.” In two minutes, the secretary returned with two copies of the document and handed them to the President.
Secretary Mortenson quickly briefed the President on the outcome of the meeting. Cecilia detailed her e-mails and conversation with Ishmael. She also expresses her concern that all this was spinning out of control, with no real evidence to back it up. The President listened carefully to everything the two women shared with him. He said to Cecilia, “I share your concern about the situation getting out of hand. However, there’s this to consider. He handed the Secretary and Cecilia copies of the report. It was prepared by the CIA, at the President’s request. The report indicated their analysts had looked at the available data as well as satellite photos of Harbin. They’d already had a drone pass over Harbin at a relatively low elevation. They claimed to have infiltrated the Chinese military and spoken with a ‘source’ there.
The contents of the report were shocking. The analyst began with “The truth is not as presented by either side. The Chinese fully intend to control fusion energy, making fossil fuels no longer economically viable. Their goal is to blackmail the Middle East, Russia and the US into recognizing them as the most powerful country on earth. Their ultimate objective is to control all of earth’s resources, with the threat of withholding energy if their needs and wishes are not met. It appears clear their goal is to provide everything that the Chinese citizenry needs to survive and thrive, at the expense of the rest of the world.”
Secretary Mortenson shook her head in dismay. “This may be the most dire situation we’ve faced since 9/11, sir.” She and Huntsman both appeared to take the report to be accurate. Cecilia has a strong sense that there was something wrong – that the only accurate sentence in the report was, “The truth is not as presented by either side.” Cecilia knew she had to try to gain some time to talk again with Ishmael, and have her team assess the situation. She said, “Mr. President, Secretary Mortenson, I continue to believe that this report is incorrect. But I don’t know what is really going on. I’d like some time to try to get to the bottom of it. Would that be possible?” The President looks at the Secretary, who looks intently back at him. “Samantha?” Huntsman stared at his Secretary of Defense. She replied, “Call a meeting of the UN General Assembly for 3 days from now. That will give Dr. Vasquez some time to reconnect with this hacker – this leaker..” she spat out the word…”and get to the bottom of this. But if she cannot produce solid proof in that time frame, I think we have to put our military forces on alert and consider taking action against the Chinese.” The President turns to Cecilia. “You have 72 hours. I hope to God you find something that will avert this disaster.” With that, Cecilia and the Secretary left the Oval Office and went to Andrews AFB. Cecilia boarded the jet for the return home to Miami. She sat in the back seat this time, so that she could use her telephone and have some privacy.
As soon as the jet was airborne, Cecilia took out her cellphone to call Nikolai Kardashev. It was 5 PM Eastern time, which meant it was 10 am in Moscow. After two rings, Nikolai answered. “This is Nikolai Kardashev.” Cecilia said, “Nikolai, it’s Cecilia. How are you? How’s the gout?” Nikolai responded enthusiastically. “Checheeleah – what a pleasure it is to hear your voice. Oh, the gout is always with me, but has gone into hiding in the middle of my left big toe, of course. But I’m getting around much better these days compared to the last time you saw me. What brings you to telephone me this day?”
Cecilia recounted everything that had transpired thus far – her e-mails and conversation with Ishmael, the meeting with the military brass and with the president. Nikolai said, “This is appalling. I find it so very difficult to believe this is reality. Even if the Chinese had the helium-3, it is not so simple to convert it to useable energy. We have been working on hot fusion for years, and I have not heard about any other projects than ITER and DEMO. The Chinese are one of the funders of ITER, and DEMO hasn’t even begun construction yet. This just doesn’t make sense. We’re a minimum of ten years away from any commercial application of fusion. But let me think. I suggest we conference in one of our colleagues, the astrophysicist, Feng Tian. Remember Feng? He worked on carbon dioxide losses in Mars’ early atmosphere. Here, let me see if I can call him.” Nikolai put her on hold, but returned a few seconds later. “Cecilia. It’s 5 am in Beijing. Could we wait a couple of hours to phone him?” Feng is a single parent of a young child, and I’m sure he needs his rest. Cecilia replies, “Actually, that would be better. I’m flying home from Washington, and I’ll be there at 7. How about we call him at 8, EDT? That will give both of us time to get home.”
Nikolai replies, “That sounds good. I will call him from home. Tatiana is preparing my favorite meal – cabbage soup and pelmeni.” Cecilia said “That sounds delicious,” even though she had no idea what pelmeni was or were. She signed off, and re-read the CIA report. Emily spoke to her. “I guess you’re going to talk with Nikolai and this guy fang?” Cecilia replied, “Yes – in a few hours. But his name is pronounced ‘fung’, like tongue. I’m sure you’ll listen in, so tell me your thoughts now so I don’t embarrass myself talking to you like I did in that meeting.” Emily chuckled. “That was pretty funny. But what isn’t funny is all this junk talk about going to war. It doesn’t make sense to me, and I’m only eleven!” Cecilia thought to herself, “Sometimes it helps to be a child to see things clearly. Adults seem to have lost their ability to think logically when they’re afraid.” Emily said, “Hmm. When I’m afraid, I try to think good thoughts so whatever’s scaring me goes away. Why don’t grown-ups do that? Cecilia mind-replied, “Emily, I wish I knew. But if we don’t find out what’s really going on – and soon – bad things are very likely to happen. “Oh,” said Emily. Let’s hurry up and call that guy tongue.”